ASARCO, EPA Reach $13.5 Million Cleanup Agreement

April 16, 2008
ASARCO reached an agreement with EPA to spend up to $13.5 million in cleanup efforts to remove arsenic, lead and copper soil contamination in two of its Arizona locations.

ASARCO’s Hayden plant site is an active copper ore processing, concentrating and smelter facility with properties in Hayden and Winkelman, Ariz. EPA collected air and soil samples in these locations after discovering, together with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), the presence of elevated levels of arsenic, lead and copper in previous samplings.

As part of the agreement, ASARCO will pay to clean up the sites and complete a remedial investigation/feasibility study to identify cleanup techniques and determine the full extent of soil contamination. The agreement also requires ASARCO to conduct additional cleanups, as necessary, to ensure full and final completion of the work.

“This agreement outlines the process which will be used to clean up the legacy of waste left in Hayden and Winkelman,” said Keith Takata, director of the Superfund division for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “We will continue to work with the state to eliminate the threat of contamination and to protect human health.”

EPA and ADEQ will oversee ASARCO’s operations to ensure compliance with the agreement, which also requires ASARCO to reimburse the expenses related to the oversight.

Contamination Hazards

The Hayden plant includes a crusher, concentrator, smelter and impoundment areas. ASARCO also operates an overland conveyor that directs ore from the crusher to the mill building for processing while passing over some of Hayden’s residential streets.

Arsenic, lead or copper contamination potentially could have damaging effects on human health:

  • Arsenic, a known carcinogen, enters the body through ingestion or inhalation as airborne dust. Common side effects include decreased production of red and white blood cells, impaired nerve function and skin irritations.
  • Exposure to lead is particularly harmful to children and can affect virtually every system in the body, particularly cognitive development. Exposure to high lead levels can severely damage the brain and kidneys in adults or children and ultimately cause death.
  • Copper at low levels is essential for good health, but exposure to high levels can irritate the nose, mouth and eyes and cause headaches, dizziness and nausea.

ASARCO filed for bankruptcy, meaning their agreement with EPA will become effective upon approval by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and following a 20-day public comment period after publication of notice in the Federal Register.

“This agreement is a win for the residents of Hayden and I am pleased the parties came together to get it done,” said Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. “Committing ASARCO to paying for and conducting the cleanup under close supervision is a good solution.”

OccupationalHazards.com was unable to reach ASARCO for comment.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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